Imagine yourself a pilgrim in 1621. You and your entourage have mistakenly landed in the wilds of Massachusetts (rather than Virginia) during a harsh winter. Half of your friends and family have died. You’ve experienced a year of tragedy, famine and sickness. Your shelter is scant, unable to protect you from the weather. Do you feel grateful?
The pilgrims tried to plant wheat, but their seeds from England wouldn’t grow in the stony soil. Friendly Indians showed them how to plant corn, but their first attempts failed. When their supplies ran out, their English sponsors failed to replenish them. Eventually, in the middle of such tragic losses, the pilgrims were able to cobble together enough corn and deer meat to prepare a special feast. They expressed gratitude for their blessings and celebrated the first Thanksgiving.
Most of us don’t automatically cultivate an emotion of gratitude. We learn to be polite by saying please and thank you but true gratitude goes deeper than politeness.
Did you know thankfulness can actually improve our lives? Studies show that gratitude changes our brains. Researchers who studied a group of young adults found impressive qualities in those who kept a daily gratitude journal. There were increases in their attention, determination, energy and enthusiasm. Gratitude also lowers depression. It releases dopamine– the happy hormone.
It’s been said that gratitude is the secret to happiness. Happy people are grateful and ungrateful people cannot be happy. Complaining leads to unhappiness more often than unhappiness leads to complaining.
We need to be grateful. As King David wrote in Psalm 92, it is good to give thanks to the Lord. When we learn to give thanks we gain an immunity against taking our blessings for granted. This brings us more pleasure and joy in life.
After a few years of keeping a list, I enumerated 2000 things in my gratitude journal. If I’d written daily my list would have been longer. I’ve challenged myself to list another thousand items and not overlook the obvious gifts.
Don’t take your health, your food or the roof over your head for granted. List each one as a gift from God. You’ll find joy as you write your blessings. It takes practice to see everything around us as an undeserved gift. We open the door to gladness when we frame our lives that way.
What a perfect month November is to set aside and truly focus on our gifts from God. Our country has faced the hardest year in recent history, and soon we’ll celebrate Christmas. I challenge everyone, including myself, to list five gifts each day of this month.
I love the glorious celebration of Christmas, the gatherings, the food, decorations and music. But the commercial marketing tends to drown out the day and season we call Thanksgiving. Shelves in stores and images on social media are burgeoning with gadgets, decorations and toys. There is the insistence on reaching for more and more; to rush to attain the unreachable goal of perfection. We’ll never measure up to that standard.
Take a deep breath; focus on core beliefs and make intentional plans with your family. What really matters most?
Let’s call to mind the real gifts we’ve undeservingly received. Sometimes we move too fast to notice. Thanksgiving beckons us to pause, open our eyes to the present moment and to wait a little longer before the foray into frenzy.
I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
G. K. Chesterton
Decades old autumn décor has appeared on our buffet and table. Simple traditions tie us together and remind us that some things remain the same, no matter the changes that disrupt us. We are always family. I’ll fix chocolate peanut clusters to fill the glass pumpkin jar I bought from a discount store decades ago. I’ll bake pumpkin bread and share it with neighbors.
I’m a self-designated Keeper of the Thanksgiving Light. The flame is waning—it’s brightness dimmed by blinding lights clamoring for excess. The rhythmic gentle light calls to those who listen. Pause, be thankful and breathe. How will you remember what’s most important? How will you love your people and be thankful?